How do I rate as Jillaroo?

JillarooI had NO experience as a Jillarro when we bought Spring Creek in 2005. It has been a steep learning curve … learning to ride the quad bike, muster, draft, and generally handle the stock. For the most part I do pretty well. Though I do find some of the vet-type tasks a little hard to stomach. For example we had to lance a large lump on a calf’s neck recently.  Blah. I grin and bear it.

But last week we mustered our youngest breeders (still heifers), to take a look at them, drench and move them. We hadn’t counted on the fact that it was pretty much nine months since we put them out with the bull. They had started dropping calves in the last couple of days. They were so cute and wobbly … but NOT very good for mustering. If they can walk at all, they are very slow and linger at the back of the herd.

There was one cute little bull too wobbly to follow and his mum had left him in the grass. We couldn’t leave him there.

I had to go back on my own, run him down and somehow get him on the bike, wrestle him still and ride to the yards with him. Eek! They look quiet until you are about to pounce on them, then they can find amazing strength. I nearly gave up, feeling it was too hard. I was scared of riding and holding him at the same time.

I decided I had to give it a go. I managed to catch him by the tail and trap him between my legs. I tried to hold him until he calmed down but that didn’t seem likely anytime soon. Eventually I dragged/pulled him by his front legs. I managed to straddle him over the seat of the quad bike then I got on the bike while holding him with my arm and legs. It was exhausting.

I set off. He would give up from time to time and lie still and then he’d start kicking and bucking, trying to get off. Phew! It was a long ride, 3-4 k’s. It was especially tricky when I got to a gate, opening the gate while holding him. But I managed to do it somehow.

Sure, I was so sore the next couple of days from holding him all that way. But I was very proud of myself for managing to rescue him. He was reunited with his mum later that day. Such a relief!


Duty of Care

Graziers care about their stock
Graziers care about their stock

I don’t know how many people understand the duty of care graziers feel when looking after their stock. It has astounded me, the lengths Chris will go to, to save one cow, the commitment he has to save a life if he can.

The day after the bush fire a few weeks ago, we were finishing up for the day and around 5pm Chris found a cow stuck in the mud in the dam in the house paddock, number 59. She was a good cow, in good condition, no doubt attributable to her resourcefulness in foraging for feed. She had crept into the dam (we imagine) to munch on the floating reeds but got into trouble. The shrinking dam had become a death trap.

We’ve tried saving cows stuck before with no success, pulling them out with a chain, but they never get up. It’s heart breaking. Chris decided to try to dig her out instead … to free the mud around her enough to hopefully enable her to pull herself to shore.

Rescue vehicles
Rescue vehicles

So he started up the faithful blue tractor and got to work. It was agonising watching. With each scoop of the mud I was willing her to get up but at the same time, horrified to watch the tractor wheels sink so deep into the mud. I was wired to the max with every move Chris made. In the end I had to turn away to try to still my anxiety and take a few deep breaths.

Dark fell and Chris worked hard scooping mud and tipping it outside the dam … until the inevitable happened, the blue tractor got bogged.

Amazingly, we managed to get the old faithful green Deutz tractor humming even though it hadn’t been driven for over a year. But of course a rescue vehicle requires a driver, and that meant me. Eek! As usual, my lack of confidence using this machinery sent my body quivering. And as usual, Chris’s short temper under pressure and expectations that I should just know how to do it, didn’t help. But we did it. We got the blue one out.

So Chris set to it again … for hours … in fact until midnight. He pushed and shoved and dug and dipped, got bogged and freed again, over and over. He was manic in his mission and I couldn’t help thinking if I was to go to war, I would want him standing next to me … such resilience and commitment.

I stood by and watched, cheering No. 59, calling to her to get up every time she made some effort. She managed to get up on her hind legs but couldn’t get up on the front legs, though it seemed so close at times.

We wrecked the dam
We wrecked the dam

Chris had been trying to move the soft mud away to create a firmer ramp for her to walk out to the edge. He was working on the side of the dam which had a steep drop. Repeatedly he would get stuck but use the bucket as leverage to manoeuvre his way out. Such dexterity using the machinery was impressive. But at one point, with the bucket full of mud, the left back wheel lifted several feet in the air. Enough! It had become far too dangerous. Fortunately he managed to empty the bucket (almost on No. 59’s head) and get the wheel back in the mud.

Again the green tractor came to the rescue and yes … I was still terrified being the driver. I just don’t seem to do it often enough to develop that calm confidence. Once the job is done, I have to sit in the seat and wait for the adrenaline to ease back. But we got it out again, for the last time.

Poor No. 59. What an ordeal she had been through having the tractor bearing down on her all that time. She had been completely silent, patiently waiting and working with us as best she could. But when we packed up to go, she looked at us and let out a long low mournful moo. She knew we had given up, somehow, she knew. It still upsets me to think about it. But we could do no more. Our only hope was that we had pulled enough mud away that, left alone, she might make it out.

It was not to be. She died during the night.

Sad and difficult times and an experience that will have been shared by many graziers across Queensland in these difficult times.

Bush Fire at Spring Creek

Fighting breakouts
Fighting breakouts

We are facing a crippling season. Even the locals are saying things like ‘I’ve never seen it turn so bad so quickly’. Though we didn’t have such a bad year last year, the summer rains didn’t come. Instead the weather sent blazing heats and a relentless dry wind which succeeded in sucking the moisture out of the dams and turning the grass to dust.

Chris and I thought we weren’t doing too badly … emotionally that is. We accepted we couldn’t control the weather and had made some concrete decisions on a drought management plan, which we had implemented. But something happened which revealed the thin veneer of my apparent ‘coping emotionally’.

Just before lunch a couple of weeks ago, we got a call from our neighbour asking if we were burning off. Yeah, sure, in these conditions … NOT! Chris went up to investigate thinking it would be something minor, probably triggered by a passing cigarette butt. While he was gone, two more phone calls came in from two different neighbours advising they were gearing up to come and help. This was serious.

Our terrible season
Our terrible season

So came crashing down my thin veneer, tears flowed. How ridiculous, I know, but that is what happened. Chris came back to put together our firefighting kit – a water tank (which had to be filled), a fire pump and hose. I joined him and several neighbours to begin fighting and we inched our way to the front of the blaze. I picked up some branches and started whacking the burning grass line. Within 15-20 minutes I’d managed to sustain a nasty burn on my hand taking off several layers of skin! Can you believe it? Great Fire Fighter I make!

Party in the Street
Party in the Street

I’d also carefully selected a safety shirt (one of those fluro ones). I’d checked the label but it just quoted a number of ISO standards. Big mistake. The first ember melted a hole in the sleeve, blistering the skin beneath. Great Fire Fighter I make!

After that, I decided it was wiser to work with the hoses. It wasn’t going too badly and a few hours in we were winning. That was until a nasty blustery north-westerly pumped up the whole situation. I was watching a stack burning at the time, mesmerised by the raging flames rising with frightening intensity. I’d never seen a fireball before, but I did that day. The fire, well fueled by an old timber stack and a raging wind, turned manic in seconds. The flames took on a life of their own, became their own entity seemingly devoid of the fuel, the wind catching up balls of intense heat and flame, throwing them metres away where new breakouts appeared. Oh my!

More reinforcements were called in. Within a short space of time it jumped the road into Inverary Station and jumped the fence into Fox Gully where it raced away terrifyingly quickly across David Yates’ grazing land, taking out kilometres of boundary fence.

Fortunately, due to the support and good work of all and a blessed drop in the wind, we halted the progress later that day. About 9 pm we felt it was safe to go home, the cooler night air helping to calm things. But that was when it struck me how such a crisis draws a community together like no other. We all live remotely and don’t see each other from day to day. But that day, we had worked hard together with a shared purpose, fought a battle, thwarted a crisis. No one seemed eager to leave (though no doubt the dozen stubbies I had thrown in the car on an urgent trip to the house may have helped). Maybe I’m not such a hopeless Fire Fighter after all?

Lost pastures
Lost pastures

Mick’s wife Deb turned up with a few more beers and some sausages and mashed potato. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We had a little party in the street!
Eventually we broke camp and went home with promises to return early in the morning.

The fire was fairly well-behaved the next day, inhibited by the fire fighters constantly dousing any new breakouts. In the late afternoon the wind turned to an easterly which, while a little worrying, turned the fire back onto itself. It spread no further and rain the following day put it out for good.

I was left awed by the support of those around me, relieved it was over and equipped with better skills for next time … which I hope never comes.
The battle with the season continues but I’ve managed to stop the tears, at least for now.

Diversity of the bush

Flat tyre ... again!
Flat tyre … again!

One of the fascinating aspects of our new lifestyle is that the daily routine is so often unpredictable. We do plan of course … every Sunday over roast dinner we discuss the week’s activities. But a plan in the bush is only ever a loose guide as it can all be thrown to the wind.

Perhaps it rains (to be so lucky) or there is always the threat of the inevitable flat tyre. The Traprock can be unforgiving in more ways than one!

Check out the nail in the Quad
Check out the nail in the Quad

This is even worse if it happens to a tractor tyre. The tractor not working is very serious, as it means no ability to put out bales of hay/feed for the stock, no way to unload deliveries or move heavy objects around … the list goes on. No tractor can be crippling to a day’s work.

Or your day might be disrupted because you find the stock are on the road, or in the neighbour’s or worse, the heifers are in with the bull … they do go looking for trouble!

Perhaps the Jehovah’s Witnesses turn up at the door. Can you believe it? They come more regularly than you would expect … driving for an hour or more to say “Hello” and basically chat about nothing and leave some literature which is destined for the burn bin before they have reached the gate. Why do they bother? Actually, last time I asked them not to come any more. Chris made the mistake of engaging them in philosophical discussion for sport one visit. Regrettable! He became a target, then, identified as someone ‘searching’. Little did they know he’d hide when the car pulled up at the gate after that.

Water trouble
Water trouble

Sometimes the extreme heat can drive you inside forcing you to abandon a more physically demanding task. We’ve been severely dehydrated on more than one occasion. It can creep up on you without you realising. In winter a nasty bitterly cold wind can keep you in, though Chris often goes out regardless.

You might run out of fuel and need to order a new delivery. Can’t do much without diesel to run the vehicles nor unleaded to run the pumps, bikes etc.

The days we pray for
The days we pray for

There may be no running water in the house or the other day the waste water wouldn’t drain away. Problems like that can’t wait; they take over.
Or there might be a power outage … that can be crippling – no internet connection, no two-way radio! As our water pressure relies on a pump, no power means no running water in the house – no shower, no water to re-fill the toilet cistern (eek). At least you can plug in a crappy old phone for emergencies.

But despite all these intrusions, you know what? The awesome thing is that it doesn’t really matter. This lifestyle means we can be adaptable and let our day develop anyway it wants. It just means rearranging a few priorities. As long as it gets done, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s today or tomorrow.
Wouldn’t change it for the world … my day is my own and I love it.